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Archive for November, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

I can’t believe it’s Monday again already, and only 3 weeks left until Christmas Vacation!  The weeks just seem to fly by…

I hope all my American friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration.  Thanksgiving here was weeks ago, but I did have a celebration on Friday as I had the thrill of watching my students participate in my school’s Biography Night.  They spent the month learning about a person (famous or not) then came to the event dressed as that person, and spoke in character about themselves in front of the school and parents.   I was so proud of them all!  At 6 and 7 they confidently did what many adults are terrified to do – speak in front of a large group of people.  A very fun night for everyone! 

  Here is my menu:

Bakingapple crisp  and, if I have time this week, apple muffins

Mains:

Rice Casserole (combine cooked rice, veggies, cooked meat or beans, herbs and chopped tomatoes, then top with cheese.  Bake at 350 until the cheese is bubbly.  A great way to use up leftovers!)

Pasta Roll-Ups  These are so yummy!  I make them with turkey leftovers instead of the ground turkey.

Broad Bean Couscous and baked sweet potatoes

Lentilli Chilli  (from the Looney Spoons cookbook)

Quesadillas  (Combine onions, cheese, tomatoes and beans.  Place on half a tortilla.  Fold the other half over.  Fry on both sides.  Serve with fresh salsa or guacamole)

Thai Chicken Curry and Rice

Burgers and Oven Fries  (I just discovered I still have frozen veggie burgers in the freezer that I made in the summer and my hubby has lots of beef burgers from a party where everyone had steak instead of burgers.  A nice, quick, Friday night meal)

Hope there are good things cooking at your house this week!  Check out orgjunkie.com for more great ideas!  And don’t forget to come back on Wednesday for Giveaway Day!

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Giveaway Day!

Giveaway Day is coming soon!  This is a really fun event sponsored by Sew, Mama Sew!  On December 2nd a whole bunch of crafty-minded bloggers will have a giveaway on their blog.  Sew, Mama, Sew will compile a list, broken into categories such as Handmade Items, Supplies for Handmade items, etc.   It’s a great way to find new blogs (this is how I discovered The Grocery Shrink) and maybe win something, too!  I am so excited about participating this year, in the past I felt really guilty signing up to win something when I wasn’t offering anything in return.  Not so this year.  I had a lot of fun last night creating something special for my giveaway and can’t wait for you to see it on Wednesday!  Be sure to check back then for your chance to win!

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Christmas Cards

This year, I decided to make all of my own Christmas cards.  It made sense, since I had already committed to making cards for every other celebration this year (It is amazing how much money can be spent at a card store!)  I made my first batch last Sunday, with a few other like-minded friends.  Here is what I have learned so far about making your own Christmas cards:

1.  It is time-consuming (in about 4 hours I managed to complete 11 cards)

2.  It really doesn’t take that much paper – I made 10 cards with just two sheets of scrapbooking paper and a few cardstock scraps.

3.  Buying envelopes to fit handmade Christmas cards can be just as expensive as buying a box of pre-made Christmas cards  (yes, I have considered making my own envelopes too…)

4.  In this world of consumer saturation I wonder if the time and effort taken to make handmade cards will be appreciated by the recipients, or just piled with all the other cards and thrown out on New Years.

5.  In this world of consumer saturation I wonder if a handmade card will mean even more to the recipient, knowing that someone put time and effort and love into making something just for them.

6.  Making your own cards allows you to say what you want to say, in the way you want to say it.  No more searching box after box of pre-made cards looking for just the right wording (you know, the kind of card that actually talks about Christmas instead of just happy holidays).

7.  Getting together with friends to make cards is a huge part of the fun of making them, especially the kind of friend where you could probably just chat all evening anyway, and making cards just gives your hands something to do!

I must say that I have never been so excited to send out Christmas cards as I am this year.  And despite the time required, it is probably a tradition I will continue for as long as I send out cards.  There is just something special about making something for someone (even something as small as a card) that really makes it feel like Christmas!

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Preparing for Christmas

While my American friends are celebrating Thanksgiving today, I have been home sick from work with some kind of flu bug (No, I do NOT have H1N1).  Feeling a bit better and unable to sleep anymore, I decided to lose myself in the pages of someone else’s life for a while.  I grabbed a book off my nightstand that had been sitting there since last Christmas and decided to give it a try.  I have become more of a non-fiction reader than a devourer of fiction, and I had put this one off so long that it was actually in season again.   The book is called “A Christmas to Remember” and was co-written by Thomas Kinkade and Katherine Spencer (Published by Berkely Publishing Group, 2006).  It was a simple story, easy to follow, which was perfect on a day when my brain felt foggy to begin with.   However, I was reminded, while reading, that inspiration can come in the most unlikely of places.  In several scenes the characters attend a church service and we are privy to hearing the sermon right along with the characters.  One in particular caught my attention, as it was about tempering the busyness that preparing for Christmas can cause, with the real meaning for the holiday. 

“But what are we preparing for?  It’s easy to get confused about it.  It’s easy to lose the real meaning of the season when we get so caught up in all the shopping and cooking and gift wrapping.  It starts to seem so much like work and rather joyless, doesn’t it?  

He compares preparing for Christmas with preparing the home , and heart, for the arrival of a new baby.  There’s a lot of work to be done – shopping and cleaning and decorating, but the focus is different.

”  A sense of creating a peaceful, pure space for the new life to thrive.  A safe, warm, loving place.  Not just in our home, but in our hearts.

And there is anticipation and excitement too:

“A deep excitement about this new life coming into our world, this new person.  So many possibilities.  A sense of joy and wonder and hope.  We are open and accepting.  We are forgiving and thankful.   (all quotes from page 170)

I don’t know about you, but even though I have never had the privilege of preparing for a baby in my house, this is the way I would like to approach the holidays.  With hope.  With purpose.  With the anticipation and excitement of preparing my home and heart for celebrating the birth of one very special baby.  Because no matter what the department stores tell us, or the TV commercials might want us to believe, or the Santa Clauses in the mall may represent, there is no Christmas without Him, as He is the only reason we have Christmas at all.

In Dr. Suess’  “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” Christmas arrived without the toys, without the trees and garlands, without the feasts and roast beasts.  It arrived to a town that woke up with voices raised in singing, hands that held a neighbours, despite being robbed of every bauble and trinket and decoration so carefully laid out and prepared.  I think we can learn a lot from the Whos in Whoville.  As I prepare for Christmas this year I want to have that same sense of wonder and meaning that the first Christmas held over 2000 years ago.  I want to look up at a shining star, and know that my world has changed.

For to us a child is born,
       to us a son is given,
       and the government will be on his shoulders.
       And he will be called
       Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
       Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  (Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

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Pets de Nonne

As promised, here is the recipe for making delicious Pets de Nonne (thank you, Google, for coming to my rescue again as I had no idea how to spell this yesterday!)  This is traditional French Canadian fair and a very tasty way to use leftover pastry. 

Begin by rolling out your leftover pastry scraps into a rectangular-ish shape.  (Just in case you start to wonder if there is something wrong with my camera, I use a whole wheat pastry dough, so the darker colour and brown flecks are just a part of this pastry’s character.)

Then butter the pastry with softened butter and sprinkle on brown sugar and cinnamon (like making cinnamon toast).  I also added a sprinkle of cloves to mine, just because I love the taste of cloves!

 

Starting at the bottom, roll up your pastry.

Slice into rounds.  

Place on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven until the sugar has caramelized and the pastry is cooked – about 15 minutes?  Remove from the pan and enjoy!    (Tip: the melted sugar will make a mess of your cookie sheet, but I find it no problem to clean up with a little hot water)

When I gave one to my husband yesterday he said that they caused “a flavour explosion in his mouth.”  Can’t go wrong with that!

Here is a fun fact:  My French Canadian Grandmother says that translated, “Pets de Nonne” means “Nun’s Farts.”  So there you have it.  Now you can make tasty and delicious farts anytime you want.  🙂

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My blender has long been my favourite kitchen appliance.  When I got married it was the one thing that I really “had” to have, and one of the shower gifts I was most excited about.  And almost 5 years later, I still remember the ladies who gave it to me, even though I no longer see any of them anymore.  😦   My blender has a place of honour on the kitchen counter, ready to whip up a smoothie or puree a soup at a moments notice.  I really didn’t think I needed another kitchen appliance – until I fell in love with homemade hummus.  Hummus really is one of the best ways to eat chick peas (in my opinion, anyway), and although a small container of it costs at least $3.00 at the grocery store, you can make a whole large bowl of your own for the price of a can of beans, a lemon, and a few spoonfuls of Tahini.  Unfortunately, hummus does not mix well in a blender (especially not the sun-dried tomato version I like to make).  Hand-mixed hummus is ok – but this is one area where I like the smoother texture of a machine-created product.   A food processor seemed like the best alternative – but way too expensive, so I bought a  second-hand food processing attachment for a second-hand blender and have used that ever since.  It does make a nice smooth hummus – but the bowl is too small for a whole batch so I had to develop a process of creating hummus that involved sharing ingredients  between three bowls and then processing them one at a time before mixing them together.  Work intensive, but worth it, and even though the thought of a bigger food processing bowl would cross my mind from time to time,  the cost of a real food processor just didn’t seem worth it (I think it would negate any savings I had from my homemade hummus!)  Then, my friends and I had a food party and I got to see a food processor in action.  I couldn’t believe it when I watched 6 onions chopped finely in seconds (and no tears!)  And then it did the same thing with carrots!  Although I don’t mind chopping veggies, on a day when I was doubling an already large recipe I have to admit I was thankful not to have to cut all those onions!  So…it put the idea of a food processor back in my head.  And then, this little black machine that you see above came on sale.  Half price.  As it wasn’t a super-expensive model to begin with, it was a good deal.  I mentioned it to my hubby.  Then I forgot about it.  On Friday, he came home from grocery shopping and brought this with him too!   He really does spoil me!  🙂   He said there was no point having it wait downstairs until Christmas when it could be upstairs in the kitchen making life easier for me – what a sweetie.  I couldn’t wait to try it and I spent all day Sunday playing with it. 

First, I used it to make pastry, which was super easy to mix up, and no problem making a double batch.  I rolled both into pie plates and stuck one in the freezer for later.  I then threw beans, sugar, eggs, and spices into the processor and made a:

Butter Bean pie!  I know, I know, beans in pie, it sounded weird to me too.  But I had all these beans stored in my cupboard that I was going to throw out (it’s a long story…) but then I just couldn’t bear to throw out good food so I started recipe searching.  This one was too intriguing to pass up.  And it’s good.  We tried it tonight.  I actually found it too sweet (it does have a lot of sugar, but I am afraid to cut it down as I think it would taste too beany) but my hubby LOVES it!!  He wants me to make it again!  This is probably the best reaction to a new bean recipe I have ever had  – I think the sugar probably had something to do with it.

With the leftover crust dough I made:

These amazing cinnamon sugar dough swirls which have a French name that I can’t even begin to figure out how to spell.   My mother always makes these when she has leftover pastry and I am glad to carry on the tradition.  I’m going to post a tutorial on how to make these later this week as they are too good not to share!

And then, of course, I made hummus.  Oh, how quick and easy it was to make it all in one bowl!    And how nice to have only the processing bowl to wash when I was done. (There is no dishwasher in my house and dishes pile up quickly, especially on a cooking day!)   

Hummus and pita crisps

And so, although I will always enjoy my blender, my kitchen affections have been stretched to include the food processor too.   I make a lot of things in the simplest ways with simple tools.  But I have to say that I am impressed by this little bit of  modern technology.    It does add one more thing into our house that could potentially break down/fail to work/is not helpful in a blackout.  But for now,  for today, I am enjoying the convenience of homemade hummus, less dishes, and a few extra minutes to spend with the man I love.  🙂

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Menu Plan Monday

Back at it!  Here is the plan for this week:

Baking: Loaded Oatmeal Cookies which I discovered through Cookie Madness (I highly recommend this recipe – I took them to a party this week-end and got rave reviews!) and Butter Bean Pie (I had fun with this one!  I’ll post about it this week!)

Spaghetti squash with Cheese  (this did not turn out well – it was my first time cooking with spaghetti squash and I was disappointed)

Sunday we were out for a delicious dinner at a friend’s house!  

Homemade chicken soup (BBQ chickens were on sale at our grocery store this week – it made a quick and easy Friday dinner, Saturday lunch, Saturday dinner for hubby who wouldn’t touch the squash, and now a delicious soup!)

Bok Choy, Carrot and ginger stir fry with fried rice

Cheesy zucchini Casserole (I have old bread to use up and this is a great recipe for it – I am going to try substituting zucchini with some other veggies from the fridge)

Thai Chicken Curry and rice  (this is a super-easy curry made from cooked chicken, coconut milk, red curry paste and seasonings, even my Hubby likes it and he doesn’t like Thai food!)

Man Food  (This is Biography night at school so I won’t be home to cook!  I am sure something meaty will be on the menu!)

Hope there are good things cooking in your kitchen this week.  Check out orgjunkie.com for more ideas!

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Catching Up – Baby Shower Success

It’s hard to believe it has been a week since I have written last!  I didn’t even manage to get a post out for Menu Plan Monday and kind of missed chatting with other people about cooking all week as a result.  I admit I have been a little overwhelmed trying to balance too many projects and felt that this was one I could give up for the week.  But I have missed writing and am glad to be back!    I know you have been in suspense all week wondering how the baby shower turned out 😉  so I am happy to report that we were able to put together 28 large gift bags just full of all sorts of baby supplies, clothes, and a few goodies for mom, AND we also collected a large number of gift cards and a huge pile of diapers as well.  It was a great success!  It was also a fun evening for us as some of us wrapped things up in the gift bags, and others of us created  handmade cards to go with each one.  I didn’t get quite as much sewing done for the shower as I would have liked, partly due to teaching commitments and partly due to a paid sewing job (yay!), but I did find a great tutorial for fleece hats and enjoyed making a few fun designs to add to the rest of the things I had already made.  Fleece is so easy to work with and the tutorial has patterns for all ages.  If you’d like to make your own, you can check out the instructions for yourself here.  Wouldn’t my students think it was funny if I started wearing the one with the ears when I am on recess duty?  🙂

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Ever since reading this book I have been wanting to make my own cheese.  If you have been reading this blog for a while you have probably already realised that it is one of my goals to make everything that I eat, wear, or use on a daily basis, with my own two hands (at least once).  I bought a beautiful book on making cheese and hope to someday soon embark on that particular culinary adventure.  But today, I want to show you how to make one of the easiest possible cheeses – yogurt cheese!  This is so simple – it only takes one ingredient and 3 utensils and is ready within 24 hours.  It has multiple uses, including a yummy and healthier version of cream cheese icing.  So, let’s get started.

Ingredients:  Plain yogurt  (I use my homemade yogurt, but any plain yogurt will do as long as it is not thickened with gelatin.  Balken-style yogurt works particularly well, especially if you are making icing.)

Supplies: metal strainer, cheese cloth, a bowl that the metal strainer will rest over

Line the strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth.  Pour in the yogurt.  Place in the fridge for 24 hours. 

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Yogurt separated from whey

When you pull it out of the fridge, the liquid whey will have separated from the yogurt, leaving a soft cheese behind.  Drain the whey and store the cheese in a sealed container in the fridge.

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Finished Cheese

So…what can you do with yogurt cheese?  I am sure there are many more ways to eat it than I have discovered, but here is what I like to do with it:

Yogurt Icing – stir in a little vanilla extract and powdered sugar to taste (this take a LOT less sugar than traditional butter or cream-cheese based icing and has gotton rave reviews whenever I have served it to friends and family) 

Yogurt Cheese dips – use instead of sour cream or cream cheese in dip recipes

Herb Cheese Spread – mix the yogurt with garlic and herbs before draining and use as a spread for bagels or toast

If you know of any other ways to eat it – let me know!  Have fun making cheese!

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Sewing, sewing, sewing…

DSC01402I am still working on sewing items for our baby shower for mothers in need and I am having a ball!  (Couldn’t resist that pun, I’ve been making brainy baby balls again!)  It is so fun to have a reason to make lots and lots of baby things.  There are so many cute things you can make for little ones and it is nice to know that it will be going to some babies who really need it.  I also have a good friend who is having a baby soon so have been making double of everything and am excited to see the pile of goodies growing!  One of my other projects this week-end were these really cute patchwork colour books.  They were one of the scrap-busting entries in Sew, Mama, Sew’s tutorial contest.  They were super-fun to make and I loved the idea of using iron-on transfer’s to put text onto the fabric.  I am used to printing directly onto (very expensive) printable fabric sheets and thought this was a great alternative.  I am really pleased with the finished product!  It was a little tricky to keep the pages lined up when sewing through all the layers, but I agree with the writer of the tutorial – the toddler who is looking at the book probably won’t care! 🙂    The countdown to the baby shower is on – only 5 sewing days left!  DSC01391

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